Entrepreneurship

Luminar founder Austin Russell, 25, is billionaire after IPO

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The founder of a startup that helps cars drive themselves just became a billionaire — and he’s barely old enough to rent a car on his own.

Luminar Technologies CEO Austin Russell, 25, secured a hefty fortune after his company’s stock market debut this week. The Florida-based firm — which he founded when he was just 17 — makes so-called lidar scanners that use lasers to give autonomous cars a three-dimensional view of the road and what’s around them.

Luminar’s share price surged nearly 28 percent on its Thursday debut to close at $22.98, giving the company a market value of about $7.8 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported.

That made Russell’s stake of 104.7 million shares — about a third of the company’s outstanding stock — worth $2.4 billion, according to Forbes, which called him the world’s youngest self-made billionaire. His wealth surged even higher on Friday with Luminar’s shares climbing nearly 37 percent to $31.40, leaving Russell with a paper net worth of nearly $3.3 billion heading into the weekend.

“It is totally surreal and it totally makes sense and it is hard to explain the dichotomy of it, but this has always been the goal,” Russell told CNBC on Thursday. “We set up the company to be a long-term sustainable business and power the future of autonomy for all of these automakers.”

Russell is one of the first billionaires to emerge from the self-driving vehicle market. He left Stanford University as a teenager in 2012 to start Luminar with help from a fellowship sponsored by Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley tycoon who’s also invested in Facebook and Palantir.

Under Russell’s leadership, Luminar has inked a deal to supply lidar units for Volvo vehicles and secured partnerships with Daimler Truck and Mobileye, Intel’s autonomous vehicle unit.

The company has projected long-term annual revenues in the billions of dollars, but it posted a nearly $95 million net loss last year on just about $13 million in revenue. Its financial growth will reportedly depend on turning its research partnerships into production deals.

“Now it’s all about scale, execution and seeing it though,” Russell told Reuters.

Austin Russell
Austin Russell
Luminar

Luminar is the latest buzzy company to go public by merging with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, a publicly traded firm that’s set up solely to combine with another firm that takes over its stock listing. Luminar was bought in August by Gores Metropoulos Inc., backed by billionaires Alec Gores and Dean Metropoulos.

With Post wires

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